Drought response takes hold along #ColoradoRiver — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification @USBR

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Last winter’s big snowpack has helped ease the impacts that long-term drought has had on water storage in the Colorado River watershed, but reservoir storage levels are still low enough that provisions of a new drought contingency plan in Lower Basin states already are kicking in.

Some water officials and conservationists say the triggering of plan components reflects the fact that a single bountiful water year is far from enough for storage to recover from a mostly dry period dating back to 2000, and recently adopted drought planning measures are needed to prepare for the very real possibility that drier years will return. Those measures involve Upper Basin states including Colorado.

The reductions that the Lower Basin drought contingency plan already is requiring show that in its first year, the plan “is already working,” Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs manager for Arizona’s Central Arizona Project, wrote in a blog on that entity’s website.

The Central Arizona Project is a water provider that will see its supplies reduced by 192,000 acre-feet next year under the plan’s provisions. That is the entire part of the state of Arizona’s Colorado River water allocation that the state instead will leave in Lake Mead under the plan, as a result of projected water levels in that reservoir at the start of next year. Nevada and Mexico also will leave smaller amounts of their allocation in Lake Mead under the plan and a separate agreement involving Mexico.

The actions are required based on a Colorado River Basin report released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It projects that Lake Mead will begin next year with water at an elevation of 1,089.4 feet. That’s less than a foot under a 1,090-foot threshold set by the Lower Basin drought contingency plan, below which the mandatory austerity measures begin. California will have to start leaving a portion of its allocation in the reservoir should surface levels go below 1,045 feet.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell upstream of it serve as the two largest storage pools in the Colorado River Basin. The Bureau of Reclamation reported that thanks to above-average snowpack, runoff from the Upper Basin into Lake Powell was 145 percent of average from April through July, raising Powell’s elevation by more than 50 feet. But it is projected to remain 81 feet below full as of the start of next year.

The Bureau of Reclamation says that total Colorado River system storage today is at 55% of capacity, up from 49% a year ago…

“One wet year doesn’t change the fact that we have a lot left to do,” said Bart Miller with the Western Resource Advocates conservation group.

He said the big snowpack provides some breathing room in dealing with the longer-term drought. Both Mead and Powell were full in 2000, before the river basin began experiencing a trend of far more dry years than wet ones, he said. The drought contingency planning is an effort to get out ahead of the problem and prevent larger-scale shortages, Miller said…

Drought contingency plans involving the Lower and Upper Basin states and the federal government took effect with their passage by Congress earlier this year. The Upper Basin plan includes provisions to operate reservoirs above Powell as needed to try to keep Powell’s water high enough to continue generating power at Glen Canyon Dam. But another part of the Upper Basin plan involves investigating the use of demand management if needed in the event of a worsening drought, to avoid a forced curtailment of Upper Basin water uses to satisfy water obligations to Lower Basin states under a 1922 compact.

In Colorado, water officials are looking into the possibility of voluntary, compensated, temporary demand management approaches as a means of staving off mandatory, unpaid curtailments under the compact. It’s expected that many demand management approaches would involve Western Slope agricultural operations.

Pokrandt said the milestone of the Lower Basin drought contingency provisions kicking in “certainly highlights the need” to determine if a demand management program is feasible. The Colorado Water Conservation Board recently created nine workgroups that have begun exploring the feasibility of such an approach, and entities including the river district and Grand Valley Water Users Association also are investigating the concept, Pokrandt said.

@MWDH2O: Metropolitan statement on #ColoradoRiver reservoir conditions #COriver #DCP #aridification

Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Rebecca Kimitch/Maritza Fairfield):

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on the Bureau of Reclamation’s latest 24-month study on Colorado River system reservoir conditions:

“We’re certainly grateful that nature provided some relief to the critical conditions in the Colorado River Basin. But the Southwest wouldn’t be in this encouraging position without also the successful collaboration of the Colorado River Basin states to develop the Drought Contingency Plan. The DCP wasn’t just about sharing the pain of potential water cutbacks; one of its primary benefits was to incentivize storage in Lake Mead. It creates new storage opportunities for California, Arizona and Nevada and increases the flexibility to access stored water.

“Today is evidence the DCP is working as we hoped. By the end of the year, the Lower Basin states and Mexico together anticipate storing an additional 700,000 acre-feet of conserved water in Lake Mead in 2019 – a record amount that will boost the lake’s elevation by nearly
9 feet. Metropolitan alone will store 400,000 acre-feet this year, bringing our total stored in the lake to nearly 1 million acre-feet, another record.

“While all that storage helps keep Lake Mead out of shortage, it also helps prepare Southern California for our state’s next drought. Being able to store water when it is available for use in times when it is not is the key to ensuring the region has reliable water in the future. We got some reprieve from drought conditions on the Colorado River this year, but Lake Mead is still less than half full. And climate change is likely to lead to drier conditions in our future. As we begin work to resolve the water supply imbalance on the river, we’re pleased the DCP helped address the immediate concerns.”

All American Canal Construction circa. 1938 via the Imperial Irrigation District

@USBR Announces 2020 #ColoradoRiver Operating Conditions #LakeMead #LakePowell #COriver #DCP #aridification

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From Grist (Nathanael Johnson):

For the first time in history, low water levels on the Colorado River have forced Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico to cut back the amount of water they use. It’s the latest example of climate change affecting daily life, but also an encouraging sign that people can handle a world with less: These orderly cutbacks are only happening because seven U.S. states and Mexico had agreed to abide by conservation rules when flows subside, rather than fight for the last drops.

“It is a new era of limits,” said Kevin Moran, who directs the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River efforts…

A Bureau of Reclamation study of Colorado River levels, released Thursday, triggered the cutbacks. The Rocky Mountains finally turned white with heavy snow last winter, but despite a galloping spring runoff, drought persists and bathtub-ringed reservoirs in the Grand Canyon are low. In its study, the Bureau highlighted the unique circumstances: “This 20-year period is also one of the driest in the 1,200-year paleo record.”

Rising temperatures brought on by rising carbon emissions are partly to blame. “Approximately one‐third of the [Colorado River] flow loss is due to high temperatures now common in the basin, a result of human caused climate change,” wrote scientists Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck in a study published in 2017 that anticipated water will only become scarcer in the future.

But these water-use reductions are also an example of people binding themselves to rules to deal with scarce resources, rather than going to court, or war. The cutbacks come from an agreement hammered out by the Southwestern states and Mexico to impose limits on themselves.

“It’s not necessarily well known or talked about, but this collaboration between the states and Mexico is one of the most successful cross-border water management stories in the world,” Moran said.

From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via The Las Vegas Sun:

Arizona and Nevada are faced with the first-ever cuts to their Colorado River water supply in 2020.

But the cuts aren’t expected to be overly burdensome for either state because they’ve been conserving and storing water for years…

Arizona will leave 7% of its allocation in Lake Mead under a drought plan approved earlier this year by several states that rely on the river. Nevada will leave 3%.

Mexico also gives up 3% under a separate accord.

The states and Mexico can recover the water if Lake Mead rises to a certain level.

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

The decision to implement those cuts came on Thursday after federal water managers released a study that serves as a key benchmark for Southwest states. That forecast predicted that Lake Mead would start 2020 at 1089.4 feet above sea level, below the 1090-foot trigger for the cuts.

By forgoing water in dry years, the states store more water in Lake Mead, a reservoir that has decreased over the past two decades because of overuse, drought and climate change. If the reservoir drops further, states would be required to take more cuts to their allotment. When reservoir levels rise, the states are allowed to access the stored water for future use.

In practice, the cuts will have no effect on Nevada’s short-term water security or water management. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is expected to voluntarily conserve about nine times more water this year than the required cuts under the drought plan in 2020. Since 2003, Nevada has used less water than what the state is allowed to take under the river’s interstate compact.

In 2017, the state used about 80 percent of its allotment, largely in part because of indoor water recycling and conservation programs that incentivize removing grass. This year the water authority is on track to use even less. That means Nevada is likely to leave substantially more water in the reservoir this year — as much as 75,000 acre-feet — than what is required by the cuts — about 8,000 acre-feet — next year. (An acre-foot is an agricultural term for the amount of water that can fill an acre to a depth of one foot. Nevada’s allocation is 300,000 acre-feet).

Bronson Mack, a water authority spokesman, said that the agency has cut its Colorado River water use by 25 percent since 2002, even as Las Vegas’ population has grown by 40 percent…

But the cuts are still significant, said John Fleck, a University of New Mexico professor who has a forthcoming book, “Science Be Dammed,” that looks at the history, politics and hydrology of the river. They mark the first time the states have been required to use less than their allocation…

It is also a recognition of a future where there is expected to be less — not more — water to go around. Even though above-average levels of snow fell across much of the West this year, the long-term trend in the Colorado River is toward declining streamflow. Research has found that high temperatures have made runoff less efficient. Scientists say that climate change could further reduce the river’s flow and make managing it more difficult, even as demands grow.

Heavy precipitation made a difference this year. When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its 2019 forecast last year, the study predicted an official shortage in 2020. Water users avoided that declaration, although the federal water agency warned that they are not out of the clear.

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

“This is a big deal for everybody on the Colorado River system,” said Jim Pokrandt, the head of community affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water District.

The study won’t have much of an impact on Colorado, where the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan has water users hammering out the details of “demand management.” Those details include asking for temporary, voluntary and compensated curtailment of water rights to build a bank of Colorado water in Lake Powell before mandatory cuts are imposed by the federal government.

Pokrandt said the dawning of mandatory cuts in the Lower Basin increases the urgency of demand-management talks in Colorado. Without a demand-management plan encouraging water users to volunteer their water rights in Colorado, the state could see mandatory cuts, where “nobody gets paid,” he said.

“The news from the Lower Basin is a reminder that 2019’s snowpack cannot give us a false sense of security,” Pokrandt said, recalling that Colorado’s super-snowy 2011 was followed by an exceptionally dry 2012. “This is a reminder of the importance of what the Upper Basin states have to do for their own Drought Contingency Plan.”

[…]

hat’s called demand management. Across Colorado, water districts and water users are studying whether demand management will work.

“Nobody knows if it will be feasible,” said Pokrandt, whose 15-county district spans the Western Slope, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board just launched its Demand Management Workshop to educate the state’s water users on the idea of temporarily suspending water rights for cash in order to build a bank of Colorado water in Lake Powell. “Determining feasibility will be a long process.”

Lake Powell will enter 2020 in the “Intentionally Created Surplus Condition,” which allows for the release of the usual 8.23 million acre-feet of water in 2020 to fill Lake Mead. It also means the Upper Basin states will increase their own banked storage in the reservoir, enabling them to better weather low-snow years with a protected cache of extra water.

Total storage in both reservoirs is 55% of capacity, compared with 49% at this time last year.

The bathtub ring in Lake Powell in October 2014. Today, the reservoir is under 40 percent full and water managers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are working on demand management programs that would reduce water use and send more water to the big reservoir that sits on the mainstem of the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Guest Commentary: A wet year has filled our reservoirs but we must prepare for the drought to come — The Denver Post (@CORiverTed) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

From The Denver Post (Ted Kowalski):

Time and water are alike in a lot of important ways. Both are finite resources that we can take for granted, or that we can manage carefully for great benefit.

On Thursday, as the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issues its official projections for water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, it’s important to think about where we were a year ago — following two extremely dry years; where we are today, after an extraordinarily wet winter; and, most importantly, where we want to be in another year — or ten years.

In the year since the last BOR report, water security in the West took a huge step forward with the signing of the drought contingency plans (DCPs) — landmark agreements that update how the Colorado River is used, shared and managed across seven states and two countries. These DCPs combined with proactive conservation measures and a year of major snowfall mean that we’ve been able to avert dangerously low water levels at Lake Mead. So it can be tempting to relax a bit — but we have to ask ourselves, “how will we use this moment to prepare for the future?” We have to be smart about using the time and water we have right now.

Common sense tells us that one wet winter does not alter or solve the fundamental challenges facing the water supply across the Colorado River Basin. As a reminder, 2011 was also a wet year in the Colorado River Basin, but it was immediately followed by 2012 and 2013 — the driest two-year period on record — causing rapid drops in water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are the two main water supplies for the Colorado River.

As an additional reminder, approximately one in eight Americans rely on the Colorado River. The stakes only go higher as the water levels go lower. As water usage in the West continues to outpace the supply, we have to continue making bold, structural improvements to our water management strategies and systems.

In Colorado, as well as in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah, a key component of the DCPs is for the states to explore whether, and how to, develop and implement a demand management program. That means that each state needs to thoughtfully agree on how best to conserve while ensuring that there’s enough water to keep communities, farmers, and businesses thriving — now and for future generations. It’s not an easy task.

Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. First, as we saw with the DCPs, it is in our reach to do big, important things. In order to make those agreements possible, leaders from seven states, tribes, cities, advocacy groups, businesses, farmers and others across the Colorado River Basin had to partner with federal leaders from the U.S. and Mexico during some of the most politically divisive times in generations. And even with all of that, they were able to find ways to take care of their own needs while still recognizing the needs of their neighbors.

Looking ahead to demand management planning, that same spirit of innovation, collaboration, and shared mission will continue to serve the people of the Colorado River Basin well.

Demand management programs are being investigated in the Upper Basin. These types of programs involve temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions in water use. The water that would be conserved by demand management is water that otherwise would have been used — but is instead conserved and saved. So, for example, demand management means that farmers could opt to fallow some of their fields in the off season in order to conserve additional water (without losing their water rights).

Demand management can offer multiple benefits: it can ensure that there’s enough water in the river to keep the system healthy, it can safeguard the water supply for communities who depend on it, and it can protect our vibrant agricultural communities.

For several years, people all across the Colorado River Basin have been working together to begin testing water conservation projects and their workability. These pilot projects are critically important, as they allow us to learn about the benefits and shortcomings of how a demand management program may work. We cannot wait until all of the theoretical questions have answers. In short, we need to continue to learn by doing.

We are in a moment right now where we have saved enough time and water to buy ourselves the opportunity to make meaningful change. We know that this moment, this time, and our water will not last indefinitely. We have to act fast and together for a more secure water future — our communities and environments depend on it.

Ted Kowalski is the senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative.

Farmington, #NewMexico: San Juan Water Commission meeting recap

From Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):

The lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California have created a drought contingency plan while the upper basin states including New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming have a different drought contingency plan.

These two plans fall under a companion agreement between the upper and lower basin states as well as federal legislation signed into law earlier this year.

The key component of these agreements is to keep water levels in Lake Powell from dropping below 3,525 feet in elevation and to keep water levels in Lake Mead above 1,090 feet in elevation.

The upper basin states will be responsible for maintaining the levels in Lake Powell.

The San Juan Water Commission learned about the drought contingency plan during a meeting on Aug. 7 in Farmington.

Here are three things New Mexico residents should know about the Drought Contingency Plan:

The outflow at the bottom of Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

1. Navajo Lake is a key component

…New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission Lawyer Dominique Work said the first step will be to look at operations at Lake Powell to determine if less water could be released. If that does not work, the response plan will look at different storage reservoirs — Flaming Gorge, Aspinall and Navajo Lake.

All three reservoirs can release water into rivers that eventually flow into Lake Powell.

One of those three storage reservoirs could be chosen to release water to keep the levels at Lake Powell above 3,525 feet…

How much electricity the turbines in the bowels of Glen Canyon Dam can generate depends upon how much water is delivered from the Wind River Range of Wyoming and the high mountains of Colorado into Lake Powell. Photo/Bureau of Reclamation.

2. The 3,525 feet water level was chosen for hydropower generation

Lake Powell produces hydropower that provides electricity to utilities in Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Nebraska. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the hydropower plant at Glen Canyon Dam produces about five billion kilowatt hours of power each year.

Electric utilities in Farmington and Aztec both receive power from Lake Powell.

If the lake levels drop below 3,490 feet, the hydropower plant cannot work…

Hay fields under Meeker Ditch 2. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

3. Plan also allows upper basin states to place water in storage

Another key aspect of the plan is it allows the upper basin states to develop a plan to store up to 500,000 acre-feet of additional water in Navajo Lake, Flaming Gorge and Aspinall. This water would be released if needed to fulfill Colorado River Compact requirements…

However, the 500,000 acre-feet of water must come from water rights that would otherwise have been used if it had not been put into storage. For example, a farmer could choose to put an acre-foot of water into storage and let their field go fallow.

The upper basin states must develop a demand management program before they can begin putting water in storage in the reservoirs.

Governor Polis Appoints CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell (@cwcbbecky) to Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission, she replaces James Eklund (@EklundCO) #COriver #aridification @CWCB_DNR

Here’s the release from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (Chris Arendt):

Governor Jared Polis appointed Rebecca Mitchell as the Colorado Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission today. The Upper Colorado River Commission is an interstate water agency consisting of the Upper Colorado River Basin States of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West and is critically important for Colorado’s economy, agriculture, outdoor recreation and our way of life,” said Governor Polis. “Rebecca Mitchell will bring experience, leadership and a thorough knowledge of Colorado River issues and will enhance the shared mission of the Upper basin states of comity and collaboration as the Colorado River Commissioner.”

The Upper Colorado River Commission’s function is to ensure compact compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The Commission was established so states work together and in partnership to meet their obligations to the lower basin states while safeguarding the Upper basin states’ Colorado River water rights and allocations. The Commission is comprised of one representative appointed by the Governor of each Upper basin state and one member appointed by the President to represent the United States.

“The Colorado River faces unique future challenges with increased population, persistent drought, and impacts of climate change,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources. “We appreciate the service of outgoing Commissioner James Eklund, and Becky is ready to take the reins. She has been an incredible leader at the Colorado Water Conservation Board and her experience is needed now more than ever as the Upper basin states’ enact their provisions of the Colorado River drought contingency plans signed earlier this year.”

“It’s an honor to serve as the Colorado Commissioner for the Upper Colorado River Commission,” said Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board. “There is no more important river than the Colorado both here and across the American West. In Colorado we have built a strong culture of collaboration, innovation, and smart policy to drive future water planning and I plan on bringing the same cooperative spirit and leadership to the Upper Colorado River Commission.”

“I am so proud to have represented Colorado in achieving interstate and international solutions for the Colorado River,” said outgoing Commissioner James Eklund. “The innovative tools we created and put in place are ready for implementation to the benefit of the entire basin. Colorado is now well-positioned to continue its legacy of leadership under the Polis Administration collaboratively and inclusively.”

Rebecca Mitchell (Becky) serves as the Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB). She is an accomplished water leader with over 17 years experience in the Colorado water sector and highly knowledgeable in the water laws of the State. Mitchell played a significant part in working with the State’s Basin Roundtables, the Interbasin Compact Committee, the public at large and CWCB staff in producing Colorado’s Water Plan. Becky has worked in the public and private sector as a consulting engineer; she received both her B.S. and M.S. from the Colorado School of Mines.

Governor Polis also appointed John McClow, General Counsel for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District and David Robbins, Hill & Robbins, P.C. to serve as alternate commissioners.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday named Rebecca Mitchell as Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, replacing Mesa County native James Eklund.

Mitchell also is director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

The Upper Colorado River Commission works to ensure compact compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources said in a new release. Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico are represented on the commission, with the goal of partnering to meet obligations to Lower Basin states while safeguarding Colorado River water rights and allocations in Upper Basin states.

Eklund, who has deep family roots in the Plateau Valley, is a former CWCB director who in that position led the effort to create Colorado’s first water plan.

He stepped down as director in 2017 to take a job as an attorney at a law firm, but remained as Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission, serving without compensation.

Both Eklund and Mitchell played roles in Colorado reaching agreements with other basin states for drought contingency planning…

Mitchell got her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Colorado School of Mines, has worked as a consulting engineer, and has more than 17 years of experience in Colorado’s water sector. She also played a significant part in the development of Colorado’s water plan.

The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

A chart from the Colorado River District’s Phase III risk study, showing average annual depletions from the Western Slope, including transmountain diversions, tied to both pre and post compact rights. Graphic credit: Colorado River District via Aspen Journalism

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

RISK STUDY RESULTS
Phase III of the Colorado River Risk Study spearheaded by Colorado’s Colorado River District and Southwestern Water Conservation District has yielded some modeling results on the risks of Lake Powell dropping to critical levels, as well as how various curtailment scenarios could impact Colorado River uses from different sub-basins in Colorado. The final report won’t be out until the end of the summer, but a slide show was presented at the Four West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting on June 20 in Grand Junction, and it is posted here.